By David R. Schleper
The mid-19th century saw an American fascination with exotic architecture, and forms from other countries – Turkish pavilions, Swiss chalets, Chinese pagodas – began springing up. The unique American contribution to innovative house shapes was the octagon house, a style made popular by amateur architect Orson Squire Fowler.
Fowler extolled the virtues of healthier lifestyle and economy of his design. Although more than a thousand octagon houses were built, American preference for four-sided dwellings won out. Most of these homes, from grand mansions to humble country Victorians, were built within a decade between roughly 1850 and 1860, before the American Civil War.
The Octagon House in Shakopee was built before 1869, as it was shown in a map in 1869. The Octagon House was located on the corner of Dakota and Second Streets. Second Street is shared with a railroad track. It was a two story house. A segment of the 1869 map showed the house at the center of the image.
At least one octagon house, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was used as a station sheltering escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. Isaac Brown, a carpenter and trader with Native Americans, reportedly grew fearful of attacks from them in 1856, so he built a house that was designed for hiding. An Orson Fowler-designed eight-sided structure, it contained nine secret passageways and spaces. A tunnel was built between the house and a woodshed, which was used as a safe house on the Underground Railway. A small storage room beneath the front porch was used to hide the runaway slaves.
The Octagon House in Shakopee was torn down in 1940.